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31 August 2009 / April

What I would/n’t miss were I to give up music

I wouldn’t miss the perfectionism.

I know, I know: nobody’s perfect.  But only in music have I gotten the very real and often very frightening sense that you need to be perfect in order to be anyone other than Just Another (Bad) Musician.

They say close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, but the truth is, close counts with lots of things.  It’s just that the performing arts aren’t among them.

That’s why everyone is haunted by the imperfections of a performance, even if they say they’re not– and everyone tells everyone else it doesn’t matter, no one noticed– and even as the words come out of their mouths, they hear their hypocrisy, they know they would be haunted too, and that’s because it does matter.  It matters because maybe some people did notice, but even if they didn’t, it would still matter.  Because that is the nature of music.

I would miss the relationships.

And, since I still have (more than) a little perfectionist in me, I would miss the relationships more than I wouldn’t miss the perfectionism.

I don’t know how the hell someone like me has been able to work with some of the best young musicians in the Ithaca area (and beyond).  But you know, life isn’t fair, and what the typical context of that aphorism doesn’t tell you is that sometimes it’s unfair in your favor.

There are acquaintances and there are friends, and then there are the people with whom you play music.  They may not all be my nearest and dearest loved ones, but that’s because they’re even more special to me, or at least special in a special way.  They are in a league of their own.

I think I’ve gone on record saying that many of the coolest people I know are musicians.  Making music with anyone is an irreplaceable, indescribable experience.  In the cases of some of the people I’ve made music with, doubly so.

And I haven’t just played piano for these people.  I’ve turned pages and stage managed and even sung.  I’ve borrowed their clothes, eaten their sushi, pondered their quandaries, stolen their sheet music, befriended their teachers, slept in their cars, commandeered their cookies, shared their victories, felt their defeats– and they still usually find it in their hearts and their purses to give me money, as though that has any power to strengthen the bonds between us.

I’ve spent a lot of sleepless nights, and I’ll probably spend plenty more, wondering what to do about this piano thing I’ve been doing for pretty much all my life.  But I could never regret having played piano, and that’s in large part because of the people.

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3 Comments

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  1. OneSky / Sep 1 2009 10:04 am

    On perfection:

    Music, even the most abstract piece, is measured and weighed, compared and contrasted. We do it to our own work and to the work of others. Being critical of our art, of our performance, is just part of being an artist. If we did not seek perfection, we would not evolve. Haunted by less than stellar performances? My method for dealing with this is simply to recognize that I really am not a great pianist. I am not a great singer. I am not a great songwriter. But I love music and can deal fine with the criticism of others if I am my own harshest critic! Then again, I do not depend on music for my livelihood and no doubt, this allows a more cavalier attitude with a focus more on self indulgence and expression than on self evaluation.

    In regards to relationships – for sure, some of my favorite people are musicians. Then again, some of my least favorite people are musicians!

  2. Kati / Sep 1 2009 10:29 pm

    The perfectionism…oh, love-hate relationships! My question for you goes like this: [quote] Would you get rid of the perfectionism if you got rid of the music, or would it be a part of your life anyway? [/quote] (see, I can be a ‘puter-nerd too!) Because I know that whether or not I whored myself to the performing arts, I’d still be a die-hard perfectionist and it’d still have the same positive and negative effects on my life.

    I can’t even tell you how grateful (to you, to the universe) I am to have been able to jam with you and to have had you as an accompanist (not to mention as a friend) over the years. I know I’m not up to nearly your musical skill level (in my defense, not many people our age are), but just sitting and listening to you practice has been awesome. Don’t even consider giving it up; you’ve got too much of a gift, it’s too much a part of your life, and it’s too worthwhile. There are ways to deal with perfectionism. The ways to fill up the gaping hole in your life where music used to be…aren’t as effective.

  3. April / Sep 1 2009 11:04 pm

    OneSky: I like your attitude towards music. But I also agree that if it were my profession, it would be harder (but perhaps not impossible) to deal with perfectionism… which is why I hope to keep music as an important hobby, but no more.

    Kati: I don’t think playing music caused my perfectionism really, though it may have exacerbated it. I guess just the fact that perfectionism seems so central to succeeding in the performing arts has somewhat tarnished music’s appeal to me. If that makes any sense.

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